Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. – Ephesians 1:2-10
Paul and Silas are in prison. They’ve been beaten with rods. It’s midnight. And what are they doing? They’re praising God! I’m imagining that they are bolstering their courage by singing those hymns. It may have been their only option other than sitting and licking their wounds in self-pity. But that’s what they do. And God shakes the foundations of the prison, opens the doors, looses the chains, and the jailer is ready to take his own life, fearing that his prisoners had escaped. The whole account may be found in Acts 16:16-34. The outcome of the encounter is is the conversion of the jailer and the baptism of his whole family. That’s grace in action!
I share this because I don’t always handle stressful situations in the most spiritually-healthy manner. I’m not inclined to sing hymns at midnight when I’m under duress. I do pray. But in the other hours of the day I might give in to other less-healthy coping behaviors. Maybe a search for comfort food. Possibly daydreaming of places far away and fantastic (not the real world!).
But there is the grace of God. That’s the constant. And when I realize my need for God’s grace it becomes a cause for praise. Part of that praise is the recognization of my urgent need for grace. So in some manner the justice of God sets this up. It is his justice and righteousness that stands me up and awakens me to the precious nature of God’s grace.
I like to say that God’s truth makes his grace precious. And God’s grace makes his truth bearable. If I reduce my life to finding ways to be happy and at peace, healthy and reasonably comfortable, I have not likely encountered God’s truth. And his grace will become a trite religious concept: quaint and forgettable. If I live a life of cheap grace, I will never bump up against the truth of God that challenges me and makes me grow.
The illustration of the Biosphere comes to mind. This enclosed perfectly-balanced eco-environment was set up to provide the perfect conditions for for plants to grow. They grew alright. But when the apples began to come onto the trees, the branches began to break off! Then they discovered why: because there was no wind the tree limbs were never stressed as they grow. Micro-fissures never formed and healed. The limbs were weakened because of it.
God in his grace will occasionally stress us. Sometimes it will come with life’s natural challenges and difficulties. Other times it will come because he will not allow us to ignore the truth of our need for his grace, help, and salvation. In those moments there is grace. Glorious grace. And that’s the truth!